class (not the movie with andrew mccarthy)

In Amrika, people (Charles Mudede excepted) typically don’t care about “class”. When you eat at a restaurant, or when you ride in a cab, or when you go to the store, you treat the waiter/driver/cashier with respect, because, you know, they’re people. (And also because they’ll pee in your soup if you don’t.) And they treat you with respect because, you know, you’re a customer. (And also because you’ll stiff them on the tip if they don’t.)

In India, this is not how things work. Naively, you might expect things to break down along caste lines, but (except for the blatant quotas-detailed-in-for-hire-ads affirmative action programs and some of the matrimonials that run in every newspaper) I was not able to observe caste distinctions. (Probably an Indian could to some degree.)

What I did notice, however, is that many of the people who work in customer-service-for-rich-people jobs are obsequious to a fault. I have never been called “sir” so many times in my life. When I ate (invariably at odd-for-India hours), the five people working the empty dining room stared at me, waiting hungrily for me to need something (and then invariably doing a piss-poor job of providing it). At every hotel, if a staff member saw me carrying something (a suitcase, or a backpack, or a bag of golf clubs) (remind me to tell you about the poor excuse for a “mini-golf” course they had at the Mughal Sheraton in Agra), he would sprint towards me, so that he might do the carrying instead.

Some “upper class” people, it appears, get used to this master-servant dynamic, as I saw multiple (what I would consider “upper middle class” in Amrika) people speak to waiters and waitresses in ways I would never dream of: “You, bring me salt!” “You’ve charged me for an extra entree. I have made the appropriate corrections on the bill and have recalculated the total. You will make these changes now!”

The canonical jerky customer in Amrika behaves this way, but in India lots of people seem to feel entitled to be that jerky customer.

The service people who don’t deal with the rich — the rickshaw driver, the roadside vendor — swung to the opposite extreme: argumentative, bullying, and aggressive. None of them seemed very interested in providing much service at all — mostly they just wanted to do as little as possible and get paid as much as possible. (Which is what we all want, I guess.)

Were I more entrepreneurially-spirited, I would move to India and start a chain of Amrikan-style coffee shops (“Amrikafe” would be a good name, as would “Sharbuk’s”). They would be clean and cheap and efficient, and any customer who disrespected the employees would get punched in the face, and also any employee who disrespected the customers would get punched in the face. The walls would be decorated with pictures of Sylvester Stallone and Pamela Anderson and Snoop Dogg and The Rock, and we would play a carefully-programmed mix of Van Halen and Jewel and Pat Benatar, which we would also sell on (pirated) CDs. We would have clever slogans like “Declare independence from shitty Indian-style service!” and “We hold these drinks to be self-evident!” and “Drinky drinky just like Amriki!” We would also have cleverly-named drinks like “the Statue of Liberty” (four shots of espresso, with apple and caramel syrups) and “Purple Mountain Majesty” (acai berries blended with green tea) and “Enduring Freedom” (drip coffee with free refills). We would offer free wi-fi, and it would be set up so that every time you opened your browser you would be automatically directed to the YouTube page for (depending on the day) Neil Diamond’s “America”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”, or (most days) Joey Scarbury’s “Theme from the Greatest American Hero”.

After our initial success, we would branch out into heavy machinery and auto-rickshaws and rice cookers and publishing (always maintaining our “punch in the face” policies and pictures of The Rock) until we were the height of Mumbai society, at which point we would begin producing Bollywood versions of our favorite Amrikan movies: Revenge of the Nerds, No Retreat, No Surrender, Better off Dead, and Air Bud: World Pup.

Unless someone beats me to it.


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    herbaliser said,

    I would go to your coffee shop.

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